Looking back on my first triathlon, this past Saturday, I realize that I dealt with my anxiety by simply ignoring it. I was totally clueless about whether I’d be able to run with my Achilles soreness, but I figured it wasn’t worth worrying about—I’d just see if I could run when it came time to run. And there were so many unknowns about the swim (what it’d be like to swim in the lake; what it’d be like to swim so far in a wetsuit) that I figured I might as well not overthink it and just swim when it came time to swim.
Well, the time came. The alarm went off at 5 a.m., and my friend Anna (who wasn’t a newbie like moi—she’s done the NYC Triathlon twice) and I pulled on our tri shorts and tops and gnawed on bagels and wished we were back in bed. My mom had decided to come to New York for the occasion, and she drove us to the transition area and dropped us off while it was still dark enough to see the moon. We set up our bikes and lined up our gear on the ground next to them, then got timing chips and pulled on our wetsuits.
The start, thankfully, seemed nice and relaxed to this triathlon virgin. We were in the fifth wave. I waited about five seconds after the gun, so flailing limbs and kicks to the eye socket really weren’t an issue for me.
Still, I had a momentary freak-out immediately. I honestly hadn’t realized I was nervous (the race atmosphere was so laid-back, I thought it had calmed me down), but as soon as I started swimming, I had trouble breathing. My lungs wouldn’t let me exhale with my face in the water, and I kept gasping for air. So I did breast stroke for a minute, during which I thought and maybe even said aloud, “I can’t do this.” Then I thought, “YES I CAN” and breathed deeply until I’d gotten it under control and could swim freestyle no problem.
I felt like I’d been swimming for ages, and then suddenly the turn-around buoy was in sight. And seeing it WAS GLORIOUS. The trip back to shore went by more quickly, even though I felt like I was having trouble spotting the buoys and zigzagging too much. I did get kicked a few times in the second half of the swim, but nothing bad—and then suddenly, I was standing on sand. I’d finished the swim!
Thirteen-year-old me, who dreaded the idea of going out for swim team, would’ve been super-proud of 31-year-old me.
As I made my way out of the lake, I heard a woman yell, “The hardest part is over!” I couldn’t agree more and started moving faster. I knew I’d been slow in the water (my goal was under 40 minutes, and I finished in 40:47, so I’m happy with that), but it was still kind of discouraging to see how many bikes were already off on the course somewhere. But I told myself ahead of time that I wouldn’t let myself get down because of a slow swim, so I took off, determined to enjoy the ride. (It helped to see my mom as I exited the swim and again as I mounted my bike—put a big smile on my face both times! Speaking of Mama Leicht, she got a great pic of me on the bike…but it’s on her camera and she hasn’t sent it to me yet. I’ll add later!)
The ride started with a huge hill that made me say either “Are you kidding me?” or “What the fuck”—I really don’t remember which. Maybe both. It was a hillier course than I expected overall, and my time (1:38:48) reflects that. I’m not the strongest cyclist by any means, but I should be able to take a good 10 minutes off that time with a course that’s a little less hilly. That being said, there was one GORGEOUS section of the ride on a bike path that was all wooded and shady and breezy—reminded me of my fave MKT Trail back in good ol’ Missourah!
After the bike, I changed my shoes and could feel that my Achilles was definitely tight, so I stopped for a second while still in transition to stretch it. Then I took off in a bit of an uneven hobble, taking short steps and hoping the Achilles would loosen up.
I think you can sort of tell from my form that I was running a little strangely. I look a tad hunched over.
The run opened with a hill that would seem inconsequential if not for the swim and bike beforehand. My legs didn’t feel nearly as weird as everyone says they do—so I didn’t bike hard enough and/or I am just a PRO at running on tired legs!!! Yeah… Still, my arms instinctively swung hard at my sides, which propelled me up the incline and easily past a handful of racers. Finally, I’d reached the section of the course that feels the most natural to me. I kept passing people, and I gotta say, it felt great—I might’ve gotten way behind on the swim, I might not be a fantastic cyclist, but I can kick it on the run!
That being said, my time (54:12, an 8:45 pace) wasn’t as good as I wanted. I WANTED to break 50 minutes, which I know I can do with a normal Achilles. So um, yeah, I guess I have to do another triathlon to prove that…?
My mom said I looked SO HAPPY when I was finishing.
And yes, I was happy. Yes I was.
Shortly thereafter, so was Anna!
I remember mid-run thinking that the tri felt more total-body exhausting than a marathon. Which I guess makes sense, as your upper body doesn’t come into play as much when you’re only running. But I don’t think I felt quite as tired afterward, and I definitely felt nowhere near as sore. I mostly felt excited for having my first tri under my belt—and thankful for trying a tri with a friend, having my FABULOUS mom in tow for lots of enthusiastic support (and photo-taking), and experiencing such a lovely race weekend in Lake George.